Man’s best friend can be a great companion and sometimes a terrific helper, too. I’ve heard of dogs fetching slippers and have personally witnessed a dog being sent outside to gather the daily newspaper. I’ve seen countless videos of dogs doing yoga next to their flexible humans. I’m always awestruck. Our dogs have proven to be not so disciplined as to exercise alongside us. Rather, they make sure to get right in the middle of anything that remotely looks like an effort in exercising. My special helpers don’t do the warrior pose in my shadow—instead, they make sure to do everything they can to get in my way.

In the mornings, while the coffee is percolating, I like to lie down on the floor to do sit-ups. Since we’ve adopted Daisy, it’s a bit of a race to get in as many repetitions as possible before she comes back from her morning constitutional and finds me. Locating me in the same spot every morning shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but when she spies me on the floor, she trots over enthusiastically like it’s a big discovery, her tail wagging wildly. In the effort to be affectionate, Daisy inevitably steps on my hair, even though I’ve tucked it under and then nuzzles my neck while I pet her. I switch to curling my legs upward, rather than moving the top part of my body so I can continue my repetitions. She doesn’t seem to notice, as she’s too busy attacking my ear in that sniffly, tickly way that dogs do so well.

“Daisy’s helpful nature is also evident when I’m getting a massage.”

Daisy’s helpful nature is also evident when I’m getting a massage. Hubby is nice enough to keep my back in shape by regular massage. This requires me lying on the floor, right in Daisy zone. This makes for imminent danger of hair stomping and straddling my inert form on the floor, making me tense up, thinking she’ll step on my head (the fear is not unfounded). Because I get these generous massages so often, I thought a fun stocking stuffer for Christmas would be therapeutic rubber balls on sticks. They’re cleverly called Bongos. The idea is that they can be used similarly to drumsticks, saving wear and tear on Hubby’s hands. What a thrilling discovery for Daisy to learn that Hubby was pounding my back with rubber balls. To say that she interfered is an understatement. She tried repeatedly to grab the balls in motion, stepping on me in the process. I hid my head in defense. The whole event devolved into yelps (me) and head-hiding (also me) and Hubby fending her off until, ultimately, we had to give up entirely. We have yet to revisit the Bongo massage.

A friend of mine, Michele, has developed a whole system for when she massages her husband’s back. Her dog, Indie, also a shelter dog, sees it all as a wonderful game. My friend buys herself some time by first piling up a bunch of balls to throw. When Indie comes around, she throws a ball down the hallway. It distracts Indie for just a few seconds—the time it takes for him to come running back with the slobbery ball. Her husband’s entire massage is interrupted every few seconds by this activity. It’s either that, or they have to barricade themselves somewhere safe.

There’s something about getting down into their space that makes dogs happy and curious and ready to be a part of whatever their humans are up to. Even if you don’t get down onto the floor, dogs want to be part of your chosen activity. Must be a pack thing. My husband and I learned that if we kissed in the kitchen, our dog Toby lost his mind. He would stand back and bark at us. Loudly. We could invite him over to be petted, but if we were embracing, he objected and made his objection known until we pulled apart. It was disruptive, to say the least. Daisy is likeminded—either that, or the ghost of Toby is wreaking havoc from the great beyond. If either Hubby or I come in for a hug—even a squeeze from behind while the other is at the kitchen sink, Daisy jumps up on the hugger’s back. Her paws land easily on my shoulders. She’s not a little dog. And, no, she wasn’t invited. “Ooof!” is the common response, followed by two voices shouting, “Get down!”

I suspect Daisy thinks she was helping when she cleared the basket of Christmas cards. Okay, I admit, I’m tardy in this task; I should have read them once more and discarded them a month ago. I came home yesterday to find the basket on the floor and the cards were nowhere in sight. We still haven’t found them. Could Christmas cards be delicious enough to consume without a trace? A whole stack of them? Not a tiny remnant of sparkly cardboard or bit of red ribbon anywhere?

Aside from the Huggus Interruptus and the bad massage technique, there are tasks for which we’ve found our dogs to be an extreme help. For instance, if you’ve ever burned milk on the bottom of a pan, you know what follows: repeated scrubbing, soaking and scraping. Enough of this might result in a pan that you can use again, but sometimes not. I learned that our dogs can work a pan like it’s their job. They tackle it with their teeth in tiny scrapes until it’s like new. Then, all it needs is a wash and sanitizing. Daisy has proven herself in this area with BBQ sauce on a pan used to cook ribs, and her tail wagged the entire time she was at it. I call that a resounding win/win. All in all, I’ll take the wins, however small.